'Broken Silence of the Elite' details how check scam landed disgraced Olympian Marion Jones in jail
BY Mark Lelinwalla
DAILY NEWS SPORTS WRITER
Sunday, August 22, 2010
In the fall of 2003, federal agents told Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery that they would be subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury probing the BALCO steroid investigation.
Right then, their lives began to crumble.
A few months later during the 2004 U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, Jones, a five-time medalist in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, who was expected to qualify for the 100 and 200-meter events, made the cut for just the relay and long jump. Montgomery failed to qualify for any event.
According to "Broken Silence of the Elite," a self-published book by Laushaun Robinson, a friend of Montgomery, the track stars began to get desperate, and wanted to milk a final payday from their deteriorating careers.
To do that, they entrusted Robinson, a drug kingpin from Virginia who was in federal prison in Fairton, N.J., to mastermind a counterfeit check-writing scheme that would eventually land both Jones and Montgomery in prison. They knew the scam was illegal, Robinson says, but they still jumped in head first, confident they wouldn't be caught.
"Their first reaction was money," Robinson says. "'Let's get some money.'"
Robinson details how he orchestrated the scam that made Jones and Montgomery and Jones' former coach, Steve Riddick, $1.7 million – and led to the trio's incarceration – in the book. Serving a five-year sentence in a medium-security prison in Fairton in 2004 for possession with the intent to distribute heroin, Robinson called his friend Montgomery, whom he'd met years before when Robinson owned a carwash in Norfolk, Va.
Robinson writes in his book of Mongomery's reaction upon being subpoenaed for steroid use by the BALCO grand jury.
"They messin' with my paper – my lifestyle – how am I gonna maintain my luxurious lifestyle?" Montgomery shrieked over the phone to Robinson. "Ya boy needs to do somethin', because I'm tryin' to maintain this lifestyle for the next 30 years, fam. Ya hear me?"
Acting fast to help Montgomery, Robinson says he called Anthony Prince, a friend that he met while walking the yard in prison. Robinson learned that Prince had an in to a check scam involving a New York bank account that held more than $100 million.
He quickly called Montgomery to set up a meeting in prison, during which he laid out the logistics of the scam. "Dawg, no joke, if you do not follow the rules of this game, this scheme can land you in prison for several years," Robinson says he told Montgomery.
Despite the clear caveat, Montgomery was on board and gung ho, although Robinson says he did sense some apprehension from Jones in later conversations that he claims were always on "speaker phone."
"Marion was actually the cautious one," Robinson says. "Just her responses, 'Tim are you sure? Tim are you sure?' But she was in love with Tim and followed his lead."
When The Associated Press approached Jones about Robinson's book in May, she claimed to not even know him.
"No. I don't know who he is. No comment," Jones said. "There is nothing else to comment on."
Jones stood by her claim Thursday night, when she and the Tulsa Shock - the WNBA team she began playing for this season - visited the Liberty at the Garden.
"I don't know him," Jones told a Daily News reporter when asked about Robinson and his book.
Nevertheless, Robinson said he reassured Jones and Montgomery by telling them that because they were world class athletes with clean records, any possible IRS interrogation could be waived off with a simple explanation: "bad check."
"I think also they're seeing me get away with it and actually having the heart and courage to orchestrate it from prison," says Robinson, "and that gave them an edge to where it makes them feel like we can get away with cheating."
Robinson told them of how Prince would send each counterfeit check out as an investment into one of their phony sporting companies.
"Whatever your account could stand, that's how much we'd write the check for without it being suspicious," Robinson told Montgomery. "We could get away with it one time."
And for a while they did just that.
Over the next several months, the trio made $1.7 million on the deposited checks. The scheme itself netted more than $5 million.
But just as quick as the money came, it went. Acting on a tip in September 2005, Virginia Beach police raided Prince's home and seized two ounces of heroin, substance to cut the drug, seven pounds of marijuana, $59,000 in cash and two guns, according to a search warrant affidavit.
They also found bank records that linked Riddick to the tampered account. Feeling the heat of an impending long sentence for drugs and the check scheme, Prince decided to cooperate with the Feds. Robinson says Prince began naming names and gave up the scheme.
Robinson called Prince's actions, "Selling his soul to the devil."
Just like that, it was all over.
Jones, Montgomery and Riddick found themselves in a similar position to Robinson's - behind cold, steel bars.
In December of 2007, the International Olympic Committee stripped Jones of her five medals (three gold, two bronze) from the 2000 games. A month later, she was sentenced to six months in prison for lying to investigators about her use of performance-enhancing drugs and for her role in the check scam.
Riddick, her former coach, was sentenced to 63 months.
Montgomery got slammed with a 46-month prison term for his part in the check fraud and five additional years for selling heroin to a federal informant while under surveillance.
In the midst of everything, Jones married sprinter Obadele Thompson, a bronze medalist in the 2000 Olympics. Shortly after being released from prison, Jones laid low until trying her hand at a different sport - basketball. She made her debut with the Shock in May, becoming the WNBA's oldest rookie at 34. She's averaged three points in only nine minutes per game this season.
Meanwhile, the one-time "fastest man in the world" is still serving his sentence at the Maxwell Air Force Base federal prison in Montgomery, Ala., where he is scheduled to stay until January, 2012. Robinson says Montgomery's sentence was reduced after cooperated as a federal informant.
The ordeal hasn't strained Montgomery's relationship with Robinson, however.
Robinson says the two remain close friends, keeping in touch via regular emails and phone calls. Robinson adds that he even wires Montgomery $100 per week via Western Union.
Robinson, who has been out of prison for nearly one year and works as a manager for L&M Realty in Virginia Beach, even accompanied Jamalee Montgomery, Tim's current wife, to watch Tim's 9-year-old daughter, Tymiah, make her debut on the national track scene in the AAU Junior Olympics at Norfolk State in Virginia two weeks ago.
Tymiah clocked 14.24 seconds in the 100 meters to advance to the finals.
Robinson says Montgomery's spirits are up, as he eagerly awaits his release, and insists that prison has changed his friend and has Montgomery's handwritten letters to prove it.
"I can't do this jail sh-- never again," says Montgomery in a letter to Robinson obtained by the Daily News. "It's do or die for me, but I needed this to make me focus and see that life is for real."
"I needed this jail thing," he reiterates in a different letter to Robinson. "It has made a real 100% man out of me. It has me in a place where my grass has been cut and I can see I had a lot of snakes."
Robinson can relate.
"It's a struggle, it's a daily struggle," says Robinson, who recently turned 38. "What I'm doing now is all dealing with faith and strength. I don't eat baked lobster anymore. Now it's, 'Put on the hot dogs and get some chips.' This is the hardest work I've had to do. Tim says, 'I know my day is coming and it's a better day ahead,' and he's right. We're building for better lives the right way."